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The Landmark Arrian (review)

From: Classical World
Volume 105, Number 4, Summer 2012
pp. 562-563 | 10.1353/clw.2012.0026

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
James Romm (ed.). The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander. New York: Pantheon Books, 2010. Pp. xlix, 503. $40.00. ISBN 978-0-375-42346-8 With a new translation by Pamela Mensch and introduction by Paul Cartledge.

Literarily worried that Alexander had not yet found a singer such as Achilles had found in Homer, Arrian was eclipsed by his hero by means of contrappasso for that innocent lie. This phaenomenon occurs often and in different ways throughout the history of literature, and so it happens that, in a literary genre very different from historiography, nearly everyone knows who Sherlock Holmes is, yet if one approaches the subject starting from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the matter becomes more complicated. Actually, the Anabasis of Alexander received, on the whole, tepid approval, from the beginning to this very day, but it played a primary, even if undetected, role in modern historiography on the ancient world, since it truly is the source of a traditional chapter of Greek history, that on Alexander the Great.

These words are taken from Delfino Ambaglio’s introduction to an Italian translation of Arrian’s Anabasis of Alexander, edited in a very popular series of Italian publications (Arriano, Anabasi di Alessandro, Introduzione, traduzione e note di Delfino Ambaglio I–II, [Milan 1994] 8–9). [End Page 562]

A new translation of the main ancient source on Alexander the Great’s deeds, from the conquest of a vast empire until his death, can perform a very important cultural role in the diffusion and popularization, not only so the tale of that most famous of historical heroes, Alexander the Great, without the many fictional myths that were elaborated soon after his death and which continue to obscure him. This is the aim of the book under review, which is achieved in an exhaustive manner. The book is divided into two main sections, the translation of Arrian followed by a group of eighteen appendices on specific topics.

The translation has marginal annotations that summarize the content of the chapters, giving geographical and chronological data. Footnotes make the text even more comprehensible. There are illustrations of landscapes, reconstructions, archaeological finds, and works of art illustrating different passages of Arrian. The main aid accompanying this translation, and its principal value for the reader, is the large number of geographical maps and battle plans. Such a well-structured translation makes this book very useful not only for novices but also for scholars who specialize in ancient history.

The introduction, the epilogue, and a hundred pages of appendices written by different scholars offer a simple yet comprehensive approach to a complete account of Arrian (sources and reliability, life and works); the subject of his work (Greek and Macedonian ethnicity, the Persian empire, central Asia, the Indian campaign); the figure of Alexander (the man and the god, his military leadership, his court, economical aspects of the campaign, the policy of fusion), the elements that made Alexander a romantic figure, his death, and the royal tombs. The number of different appendices balances the interests of the varied range of readers for whom this book is intended.

To return to Ambaglio’s words on Arrian’s destiny, this book leads to a comprehensive knowledge of the hero Alexander through the text of the ancient historian; to complete this knowledge many useful aids have been added, even if parts of Arrian still remain in the shadows.

Luigi Bravi
University of Chieti
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